One of the nicer developments over the past few years has the straightforwardly quiet reemergence of X, one of the true greats to come out of LA’s original punk underground. With little hype, and nothing in the way of a label to fall back on for tour support, the original four – singer Exene Cervenka (nee Cervenkova), bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom, and drummer DJ Bonebrake – simply regrouped and started touring regularly, picking up where they left off before Zoom left in the wake of 1985’s overly polished Ain’t Love Grand (Elektra), an ultimately failed shot at attaining the commercial success that continued to elude them even as they soldiered on with Blaster Dave Alvin and Tony Gilkyson of Lone Justice on guitar. Their final studio album, 1993’s Hey Zeus!, finally convinced the once married Cervenka/Doe songwriting core that they were only damaging X’s legacy as one of LA punk’s true greats, and both immersed themselves in other projects.
A reformed X essentially admitted as much last Saturday at Avalon with a set that drew exclusively on their first four full-lengths – classic albums that married the spirit and energy of punk with rockabilly hooks and a deep, poetic sense of Americana. The cryogenically preserved Zoom, whose true age remains a mystery, didn’t miss a riff as he smiled and winked at women lucky enough to catch his eye. John and Exene may live separate lives now, but their desperate songs of dysfunctional modern love shot through with moments of pure romance haven’t lost any of their resonance. Even the anti-Reagan salvo “The New World” rang true – a few kids even tried to get a mosh pit going. And as the band fired through the best of their early material, those years in the wilderness, struggling to rediscover their sound with Alvin and Gilkyson, simply faded from view, lost somewhere in the Technicolor tangle of Exene’s impressive mane.
X weren’t the evening’s only attraction. Failed actor and one-time MTV VJ Henry Rollins has at last found a home at the Independent Film Channel as a talk show host and on the stand-up front, where makes humorous observations from the perspective of an aging punk rocker (he releases his comedy CDs and DVDs, as well as books of filled with humorous anecdotes and punk folk wisdom on his own 2.13.61 label). And, for the X tour he’s put together his own band, a hard-hitting, riff-driven, punk-metal foursome outfitted with studio drummer Sim Cain, avant-guitarist Chris Haskett, and jazz/funk bassist Melvin Gibbs. Like his comedy, the band offered a spot on parody of the aggro, woe-is-me angst so popular among post-Nirvana alt-rock bands. And, beneath that distinguished, close cropped gray hair, Rollins is a genuine tattoo’d rock animal. Stalking the stage in nothing but a pair of black shorts, he pumped his fists and raged along to churning distortion and backbeats a hard as his six-pack abs, scream-singing about the dangers of low self esteem, his desire to disconnect from the world, and finding strength in adversity (“Oh Mother/They hate me so much/The hatred’s real/And now it’s mine”).Occasionally Rollins overacted a bit: his portrayal of a seductive liar in a song the audience seemed to recognize, was way over the top. But, then, love scenes never were Rollins’ thing.